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ALASKANA READING LIST

Excited to Get Up and Go! to Alaska and want to learn more about it? Check out some of these titles:

Non-Fiction

COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, by John McPhee. A literary and very readable collection of three essays by this highly acclaimed author/journalist will give you a good feeling for the spirit of Alaska.

The first of these is At the Northern Tree Line: ‘The Encircled River’. This essay is a beautiful account of McPhee’s 1970′s journey in canoe and kayak along remote rivers above the Arctic Circle with leaders of the US National Park Service, scouting out potential new park lands, and encountering grizzlies, Eskimoes, and pristine wilderness.

In Urban Alaska: ‘ What They Were Hunting For’: Here McPhee tells of the politics and power struggles in the state, revolving around efforts to re-locate the state capitol. The conflict between urban and frontier Alaskans symbolizes the often contradictory visions the state has of itself (storehouse of exploitable resources vs. timeless wilderness / quality of life paradise), and continues to be a major theme in Alaskan society and history.

In the Bush: ‘Coming into the Country’ sketches the lives of rugged and freedom-loving individualists who have re-located to remote Alaska to pursue new livelihoods living in the wild, off the land, by sheer force of their wills and wits. This is perhaps the single best book about Alaska I’ve read.

GOING TO EXTREMES, by Joe McGinnis is a very interesting and readable account of this journalist’s experiences traveling through the various regions of Alaska in the 1970′s. An excellent introduction and overview of the multifaceted land, its people, nature, communities, politics, history, and innumerable contradictions.

TWO IN THE FAR NORTH, by Margaret Murie is a beautiful account by the wife of the pioneering wildlife biologist Olaus Murie of their lives in Alaska, studying the caribou populations and eco-systems, working to gain protection for the wilderness, and living large. Exceptional.

NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE, by Canadian historian Pierre Berton; this is the classic and fascinating history of the 1898 Klondike gold rush that opened the Yukon and Alaska to the outside world, and launched the age of the Gold Rush. An epic account.

TRAVELS IN ALASKA, by John Muir. Adventurer and wilderness bard par excellence Muir traveled to the Great Land in 1879, excited about the prospect of finding a wilderness that might rival and even surpass his beloved Yosemite and the California Sierra Nevada. He wasn’t disappointed. Among his other Alaska adventures, Muir traveled by dugout canoe with the chief of the local Chilkat Indians into then otherwise unknown Glacier Bay. Muir had been among the first to accurately describe the science of glaciology and to put it in a realistic geologic time frame, propositions which were initially scoffed at. His visit to the glacier-choked Alaskan coast further reinforced his ideas, even as it pushed him to new levels of inspiration and poetic celebration of wilderness. This readable paean withstands the test of time. And by the way, Muir’s theories were right.

INTO THE WILD, by Jon Krakauer. This book (recently made into a film by Sean Penn), written by the talented author of “Into Thin Air,” and “Eiger Dreams,” created a sensation with its account of a disaffected and idealistic young college student who hitchhiked to Alaska and walked into the wilderness north of Denali with nothing more than a rifle, a sleeping bag, and a bag of rice, determined to purify his existence and rediscover the meaning of life. It’s very compelling and provocative, as well as controversial. Highly recommended.

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Fiction

ALASKA DRAGON, by Benjamin Shaine. Mr. Shaine lives in the remote village of McCarthy, which many of our trips visit. His novel revolves around the fictional Alaska frontier town of “Darwin,” (suspiciously like McCarthy), and a nearby copper mining complex (a la Kennecott). This beautiful and insightful book dramatizes the ongoing struggle between those who would exploit Alaska’s rich natural resources, and those who would preserve them, Alaska’s primary historical theme. An engaging story with multiple interconnected plots, the book is at once philosophical, provocative, and a lyrical celebration of the beauty and value of wilderness and simple, pure living. Highly recommended.

THE CALL OF THE WILD is Jack London’s classic novella about the lives of the pioneers and gold seekers who headed north to find new opportunities, riches, and adventure at the turn of the century. Very good.

THE COLLECTED POEMS OF ROBERT SERVICE, “Rhymes of a Rolling Stone,” and especially “The Spell of the Yukon,” are British-Canadian poet Robert Service’s classic verses about the gold rush and life in frontier Alaska and Yukon at the turn of the century. Very good.

ALASKA, by James Michener. I can’t really recommend this historical novel, because I’m not much of a Michener fan. It is however very popular, and comprehensive in interweaving the history of Alaska into a (rather contrived) narrative story. You might like it.

TISHA, THE STORY OF A YOUNG TEACHER IN THE ALASKA WILDERNESS, by Robert Specht is a page-turner account of a young woman who came to the Alaska wilderness to establish a school in the gold rush community of Chicken in a time when virtually the only women in the country were prostitutes, and the only school was the one of hard knocks. Probably the best selling Alaska-related book of all time.

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Field Guides

Everyone knows about the Alaskan mega-fauna and other wildlife, but many Alaska visitors are pleasantly surprised by the amazing variety and diversity of wildflowers, as well as birds they encounter in Alaska. If you want to get an idea of some of these before your trip, I can highly recommend the following titles:

FIELD GUIDE TO ALASKAN WILDFLOWERS: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways, by Verna Pratt. While not completely comprehensive, this book is well organized, useful, and enjoyable to read through.

GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ALASKA, by Robert Armstrong. Excellent photographs and useful regional charts on each page distinguish this fine book.

Well, that should get you started. I would be interested in hearing any feedback you might have on any of these, as well as additional recommendations. There are of course hundreds of additional titles; if you have some specific interest, don’t hesitate to ask.

Virtually all of these are available at Title Wave Books in Anchorage (an exceptional new and used book store next door to REI) or on the Amazon.com web site (if you have trouble finding them locally–I encourage you to support your local bookseller whenever possible!). Happy Reading!

Are you ready for more than an armchair Alaskan experience? Call Toll Free: 1-888-868-4147 or 1-907-245-0795. Or email us: alaska@getupandgotours.com

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